Dipping Job (Job 9:30-31)
Bill Long 1/21/05
A Portrait of Anguish
Job is bothered in Job 9 by the problem of how to approach God in his pain. He believes and has taught for years that God is the one to whom one should go in distress; he suspects, however, that God would not be sympathetic to him in his current situation. If he approached God, God would "prove me perverse (9:20)," even though Job is innocent of wrongdoing. This causes a huge dilemma for him.
So, in 9:25-35 Job works through three hypotheticals in his mind ("if..if..if") about how God would react if Job did certain things. The second hypothetical (9:30-31) is the focus of this mini-essay. A careful consideration of Job's words shows it to be a enormously vivid picture of frustration and anguish.
"30 If I wash myself with soap and cleanse my hands with lye, 31 yet you will plunge me into filth, and my own clothes will abhor me."
As is almost always the case, the Hebrew text is more concise than the English translation. These two verses comprise only 12 Hebrew words. Verse 30 emphasizes the strength of the cleansing agents with which Job would cleans himself while verse 31 stresses the fact that such human effort and good will avails nothing with God. Despite Job's best efforts God will plunge him back into the muck. The word translated "plunge" is probably better rendered "dip." The verb "dip" appears most frequently in the Hebrew Bible in ritual contexts (such as Lev. 4) where the priest dips an animal in blood as part of the ritual of sacrifice. Thus it is not the viciousness of God's rejection of Job or God's extreme energy that is in view, which would be communicated by "plunge," but the almost ritualistic way that God is "dipping" Job. However, rather than dipping Job in the cleansing blood or purifying oil of sacrifice, God is dipping Job into "filth." Job will be, literally, covered with muck and only useful to be discarded.
God dips Job into "filth." The Hebrew text, however, says "the pit," while the Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint, has "filth." There really isn't a considerable difference between the two, since it isn't hard to imagine a pit being full of wet ooze and mud. But the picture at the end of v. 31 is also very vivid. So mucky and dirty would Job be after being dipped by God, that his very clothes would hate him. Job's clothes are personified, they will rise up and declare their hatred of him.
Two other biblical examples of personification of nature give this verse a richer context. When Cain killed Abel the crime was so horrendous that the very blood of Abel cried out from the ground for vengeance (Gen. 4:10). When the Pharisees urged Jesus to rebuke his disciples, Jesus said, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out (Lk. 19:40)." Mary, the mother of Jesus might say that all generations will rise up and call her blessed, but in Job's case his clothes will despise him.
A Story from Life
A story from life might help illumine the emotional violence of the image in 9:30-31. I remember the night my daughter went to the Junior Prom in High School. She spent part of the day getting her hair and nails done, then came home and took a long shower, ironed her nice long gown and finally tried it all on. When she completed everything, she came downstairs to show me how she looked. Of course, she looked stunning! What dad wouldn't say that about his daughter? But what I noted as she stood looking at me and talking to me was that she sought, above all, a sense of dad's "approval" at how she looked as she was beginning her big evening. It is not as if she was lacking confidence or unsure of herself. She wanted, and I think she needed, a sense that I was "with her" in a very strong way as she went out. She was, therefore, in a most vulnerable position.
This is a little bit how I see Job in 9:30-31. He imagines preparing himself for the an appearance before God. He scrubs himself with the most powerful cleansing agents known to people. Every hair is in place. Everything is perfect. He stands waiting for God's reaction to him, for God's "approval." One word can destroy him, and indeed it would take a very cruel God or parent to utter the word to deflate the confidence of the child.
Yet Job is convinced that this is exactly what God would do. Though Job would do everything humanly possible to make things work, to make things "perfect" before God, to appear without blemish, to accommodate himself completely to God, God would be absolutely merciless. God would dip him in the muck, push his face in the shit, humiliate Job yet further. So dirty and filthy would Job become that his very clothes would scream their hatred of him.
Job would do anything to be back in the good graces of God. He would wash himself and make himself clean. But, alas, he knows that it would do no good. God's irrational anger is still in control of God. God would simply, ritually, methodically, dip Job into the mire and cover him with muck. God would delight in humiliating his creature. God would be completely merciless.
Such an utter hopelessless then fuels the germ of a hopeful thought in 9:33, a thought so radical and new that Job cannot even entertain it. Yet, that thought will grow as the Book of Job grows, until Job will confess his knowledge of his Redeemer who lives (19:25). But we are still a long distance from that. In the meantime, Job is stuck in the mud--mud into which God has thrust Job's face.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long